Before he became The Michael Crichton, he was a student at Harvard Medical School who banged out suspense novels – often with a medical background – on the side under pseudonyms. Now that he’s dead, publishers are holding onto the Crichton revenue stream by republishing these early thrillers. And I am really glad.
Because these books are great. They’re short. They move like the clappers. They stick to the story, tell it, and then wrap up quick and go home. Are they great literature? No. Will they haunt your dreams and linger in the mind long after you close them? No. (I’ve read A Case of Need three times over the last 25 years and I can never remember the resolution.) But that doesn’t stop me enjoying them. These are just great escapist thrillers.
Well, almost. The Venom Business is twice as long as its companions – and it shows. In place of speed and movement, it offers endlessly explanatory dialogue and lets a lot of cats out of bags long before they get the chance to bite anything. A third of the way through there’s a reference to the protagonist being set up as a patsy. Later on there’s another reference. Then yet another. By the time he gets to be the patsy, I was thinking of moving to the kitchen to watch the washing up dry. For a bit of excitement. The whole book brought nothing to mind so much as a quote by Mark Twain: ‘I apologize for such a long letter – I didn’t have time to write a short one.’ Crichton must have been really racing to get this one finished. And it shows.